Does sex education matter or is it just a special interest for some? My kids aren’t having sex right now— why would they need to know about it? If talking about sex makes me uncomfortable, why should I learn anything about it?
The research on comprehensive sex education is extensive at this point and there are a lot of positive benefits.
Let me name just five benefits of sex education for you.
#5 Culture Lies: The Truth Will Set You Free
Whether we want to be educated or not, we live in a society where we are constantly fed information. Our brains and bodies process this both consciously and subconsciously. From billboards to podcast advertisements, from casual conversations to formal sermons, from subtle messages in movies to overt teaching in social media. We are regularly absorbing and sorting through it all.
Choosing to learn only by passive absorption is choosing to subject yourself to propaganda and pop-culture trends. Some people don’t have the opportunity to learn more than that, but if you’re reading this blog, YOU DO. Willful ignorance is an abdication of your responsibility to yourself, your Maker and the human race. Passivity on your part could mean ignorance for your kids as well. As followers of Jesus we are called to steward what we’ve been given—and that includes our own bodies!
The most common sources of sex education are porn and the depictions of sexual activities in movies and shows. Without intentionally seeking factual information, what we see is what we believe to be true. Hollywood is impressively convincing! I wish I had a statistic for the number of people who were sorely disappointed by their first sexual encounter. What is this!?!? Nobody told me it would be so_________!!!
It probably wouldn’t take much convincing for you to believe that the US’s 13 billion dollar porn industry is corrupt and has an agenda other than providing accurate sexual education. Porn hooks viewers, makes money, and eventually consumes lives. Good sex educators, on the other hand, are passionate about putting good information into your hands. Many of them are licensed professionals held to ethical standards. They want you to succeed. They want you to enjoy your experience. Yes, they too are selling a product, but not by oppressing others. They win if you’re happy and thriving.
A few of my favorite sex educators are Vanessa Marin, Laurie Watson PhD, LMFT, and Jamee Andelin. Spend some time with their content to ground yourself in the research. (They’re also good natured and will make you laugh.)
Once you arm yourself with accurate information, you’ll be ready to discern lie from fact when it comes to pop culture. You’ll still be able to laugh at the relational foibles of your favorite entertainment characters, but not be fooled by their inaccurate portrayals of sex. You’ll be able to spot the deception when you see it, because you will know the truth.
#4 Partner Violence: Knowing Our Rights and How to Protect Ourselves
Research shows that students who have had extensive, accurate sex education are better able to manage their safety. They understand their bodies and physical boundaries and are intuitive about situations that feel threatening or intrusive. They know when and how to say no and are more likely to clarify consent with their partners.
As much as power and control themes are illustrated in the media as attractive and romantic, they are not enjoyable when they’re unwanted. Students who are taught about sexual ethics, specifically consent, mutual respect and pleasure, recognize that everyone may not be having the same good time. You won’t know unless you talk about it. Sexual experiences are diverse and need to be discussed openly and directly between partners. If talking about sex is avoided by trusted adults, students fail to value that open communication between each other.
While you may be past school age, it’s important to think about how our communities are affected by these issues. As adults, it’s our job to protect children from unnecessary dangers. Do your part to protect your own children and others by normalizing quality comprehensive sex education as an essential part of their development. You can start by learning your own accurate information to pass on.
#3 Shame: A Life-Killer
Shame is the belief that we are unrecoverably bad. Shame makes us hide, lie, and throw shade at others to get the heat off ourselves. It’s a common source of self-hatred and disables connection. We quickly reject parts of ourselves that don’t feel accepted by others, causing fragmented identities and disorientation. We could call shame a life-killer.
As sexuality is such a vulnerable element of our humanity, it is particularly vulnerable to shame. We get our feelings hurt easily in sexuality and feel particularly terrible if our sexuality is not accepted or validated by someone we’re interested in.
Not talking about something is a sure fire way to send the message that there’s something dangerously bad about it (e.g. He Who Shall Not Be Named). The silence itself is enough to send the message, but when we’re spoken to in a deceitful way (inaccurately, manipulatively, partial truths, etc), we compound the problem by creating an impossible standard. Everything that is normal becomes odd and strange. This is particularly true with the sexual standards set by pornography and pop-culture. Very few of us know what normal sexual body parts look like, because what we see are filtered, enlarged, shaved and bleached, if not completely fake!
How can we feel good about ourselves if this is all we know? To decrease shame we need to know what is actually normal and healthy. Most of you would be surprised at how average (yet diverse) you actually are. One of my favorite recommendations for women interested in adjusting their expectations is the book Womanhood: The Bare Reality, a photography book dedicated to normalizing the wide range of female experiences and bodies. (It’s not intended to arouse, but it is explicit).
Accurate sex education can help us to combat the shame our world throws at us on the regular. When we’re told we’re bad and unloveable, we can say, “No I’m not! I’m normal, healthy and loved.” Learning what’s normal, even average, we can adjust our expectations and stop beating ourselves up. Knowing how human bodies work gives us the opportunity to curiously learn and experiment with what works for us, instead of trying to squish ourselves into an impossible box. We can stop shaming ourselves and our partners for things that are actually normal experiences within the human race. Feeling less shame means being more able to vulnerably share our hearts and our ideas, thus enabling connection.
#2 Unintended Pregnancy: A Painful Toll
The number of couples who get pregnant every year by accident might astound you. In the US alone, two and half million unintended pregnancies occur every year. Some end in termination, some come to full-term.
Regardless of what you believe should happen with these pregnancies, they require a great toll on the society that supports or ignores them (both on public health and on the economy). An estimated 34% of those pregnancies end in abortion (884,000). The remaining 66% reduce the workforce, stretch household budgets, and drain public resources. Not to mention the emotional, psychological, and relational stress for everyone involved. No one is saying babies are bad. It’s just that they’re costly. So when a person, family, or society isn’t ready for them, we all have to scramble (often unsuccessfully) to make ends meet.
Current research shows us that comprehensive sex education is an effective form of pregnancy control. Comprehensive sex education teaches how sex and bodies work. It doesn’t encourage or discourage sex, but puts information into the hands of those who may have the opportunity to choose this behavior. It doesn’t aim to indoctrinate, but empowers learners to discern wise choices for themselves. It doesn’t replace moral development, but rather enhances a learner's ability to reason and understand the choices they’re making.
On the other hand, abstinence-only education has proven to be ineffective at preventing unintended pregnancy. Abstinence-only education is just telling kids not to have sex (sometimes with no other reason than “It’s wrong.”). Sometimes it employs scare tactics like showing diseased body parts or threatening punishment, alienation, or damnation. It’s not empowerment, but a moral directive. Unfortunately, when kids are finally out of an authority’s reach, they are more likely to follow the examples of their heroes than to obey commands they were taught, if they haven’t been taught to reason for themselves. In other words, indoctrination doesn’t work long-term and requires fear to be enforced.
If you know how bodies work, you are better equipped to choose if you want to engage in such activities. Why would we not give our community its best chance of thriving?
#1 Health - Living Your Best Life
Just like understanding intercourse and pregnancy helps you make more informed choices, so does understanding all of your body and heart’s functions. Sex includes so many elements of the human experience: the body, relationships, emotions, hormones, connectivity, and community, to name a few. Knowledge is power. Understanding yourself helps you to be the great steward you are designed to be of your own body and experiences.
A person who doesn’t understand genitalia pH won’t know that using soaps and perfumes can increase yeast infections and itching. A person who doesn’t understand the body’s inclination to bond as it’s flooded with oxytocin may make unwise choices about who (or what!) they’re focused on during sexual arousal. A person unaware of the need for clitoral stimulation for women to experience orgasm may practice intercourse alone in their sexual engagement, missing an incredible opportunity for mutual pleasure!
The field of sex research is rich with data at this point– so many fascinating facts that can help us function in a healthier way. From learning the differences in arousal cycles to varying types of desire, to hormonal impacts on engagement, there is so much to understand. Pastors, parents and parishioners could all benefit from some intentional search into the science of sex. Before we can have even one conversation about how to use the gift of sex, each of us ought to arm ourselves with truth and reality. One option might be taking my course The Truth About Holy Sex: A Workshop for People Who Love Jesus and Want to Love Sex.
In addition, understanding sex and its functions can help us teach our kids to make wise choices before they’re confused and misled. We can prevent harm and enable health by giving them the tools they need before they even begin that journey. If you’re ready to engage this conversation with your kids in a no-shame, accurate way, my course Sex Ed for Parents can get you started.